Michael W. Hills, Scott G. Thomas, Patricia A. McDougall, Elizabeth A. Hewitt‐Falls, John C. Graham, Stephen A. Deane*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Blunt thoracic aortic rupture (TAR) initially presents with subtle signs but is usually fatal if not diagnosed and treated early. Does the diagnostic process affect outcome? The definitive test most widely promoted is thoracic (arch) aortography but is usually only available in major teaching hospitals. Thoracic computerized tomography (CT) scanning is more readily available but its role in diagnosis of TAR is unproven. A retrospective review of trauma databases and medical record indexes over a 7 year period identified 38 patients presenting with TAR at Westmead and Royal North Shore Hospitals in the period 1984–91. Thirteen patients (34%) were dead on arrival or died within 15 min of arrival at either hospital. Five patients (13%) who arrived in cardiac arrest (with suspected TAR) died after immediate thoracotomy (two in the Emergency Department and three in the operating room). Two patients (5%) died from severe head injuries and were not investigated for TAR. Eighteen patients (47%) remained alive long enough for investigation and were considered potentially salvageable. Nine of these survived. Only 13 patients had arch aortography. No patient survived without an aortogram. Five patients had a chest CT scan; aortography followed in four patients. Computerized tomography scans delayed aortography or were misinterpreted. Review of all trauma thoracic (arch) aortograms for the same period at Westmead Hospital revealed a diagnosis of TAR in 7.4%. Blind thoracotomy did not result in survival. Computerized tomography scanning of the chest was of no value in the management of this injury. Early suspicion of possible thoracic aortic rupture demands urgent arch aortography and this remains the diagnostic ‘gold standard’.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)312-318
Number of pages7
JournalAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Surgery
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1994
Externally publishedYes


  • aortic rupture
  • aortography
  • human
  • radiography
  • tomography
  • traffic accidents
  • wounds
  • X‐ray


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